BEIJING — Beijing announced a 12.7 percent increase in its military budget Friday, a substantial hike that is sure to add fuel to the global concerns over China's rising military capability.
The double-digit increase comes after a tense year in which an increasingly confident China asserted its interests in the Yellow Sea and South China Sea, at times unnerving its neighbors and the United States. Announcing the budget increase in the run-up to the National People's Congress, Li Zhaoxing, a spokesman for the legislative gathering, tried to allay concerns.
"The limited military strength of China is solely for safeguarding its national sovereignty and territorial integrity and would not pose a threat to any country," said Li, according to remarks quoted by the state media.
He said the government wants to improve weaponry, military training, human resource development and the living standards of soldiers. China's People's Liberation Army has 2.3 million soldiers.
Double-digit increases in military spending by the Chinese have been common for most of the last decade, with last year's more modest year-to-year increase of 7.5 percent considered an aberration.
"So they are back to double-digit increases?" said Bonnie Glaser, an analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "Not surprising, given the many other indications of the growing influence of the People's Liberation Army."
U.S. analysts have expressed doubts about whether China is disclosing its entire defense budget, but its projected size was reported at $91.5 billion, about 1.4 percent of gross domestic product. Li said China's spending is modest compared to the United States, where the total security request for fiscal year 2010 was about $815 billion.
Xu Guangyu, a retired military officer and analyst with the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association, said the amount China spends on its soldiers, in particular, merits an increase.
"Our level of spending is still low compared to other countries and what we spend per soldier is very low," Xu said. "We need to spend more improving the livelihood of the military."
China has been rapidly developing its navy and air force. During a visit in January by U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, officials showed off its technological prowess with a test flight of an experimental stealth fighter. China is also trying to build an aircraft carrier.
Over the past year in particular, the Chinese have been more belligerent about territorial claims, as was evident in September when a fishing boat collided with a Japanese vessel near disputed water. There have also been numerous skirmishes between Chinese and Vietnamese vessels in the South China Sea, prompting Vietnam to beef up its own defense spending.